Far-right candidate ahead in polls for Austrian presidency

Norbert Hofer addresses a news conference ahead of a re-run of the run-off presidential election in Vienna, 29 August 2016. The poster says "Austria Needs Security." [[Reuters]]

The far right is ahead in Austria’s presidential race, according to opinion polls which predict a win for the anti-immigration candidate that would be a watershed for populists across Europe who have capitalised on the migration crisis.

Ahead of the 2 October election, the Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) Norbert Hofer is just ahead of his independent rival, Alexander Van der Bellen, who narrowly beat Hofer in a previous run-off vote in May that was annulled.

Austrian far right gets election defeat annulled

Austria’s presidential run-off election must be held again, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled on Friday (1 July), handing the Freedom Party’s narrowly defeated candidate another chance to become the first far-right head of state in the European Union.

Concerns about security and national identity as well as dissatisfaction with traditional, more centrist parties, have fuelled support for the FPÖ as well as the Front National in France and the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Austrian nationalist candidate to flaunt his 'toughness'

Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPO) kicked off its campaign for president on Wednesday (24 August) with the slogan “Power needs control”, seeking to get its candidate Norbert Hofer elected on a promise of toughness after concerns over Europe’s migrant crisis.

A poll of 600 people published by the Österreich tabloid showed the average support for Hofer at 53%, one point higher than a poll in late July, versus 47% for former Greens head Alexander Van der Bellen.

Another poll, of 778 people with a margin of error of 3.6%, published by newspaper Kurier, found 38% thought Hofer would win while 34% percent expected Van der Bellen to.

In polls for parliamentary elections set for 2018, the FPÖ regularly attracts more than 33%, ahead of both ruling centrist parties.

Hofer, whose party argued against joining the European Union in a referendum on membership in 1994, has said Austrians should hold a vote on leaving the bloc if Turkey were to join or if significantly more political power were transferred to Brussels.

Recently the Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, a social-democrat, has called on the European Union to end membership talks with Turkey in the wake of a massive government crackdown following a failed coup.

Austrian chancellor wants EU to end accession talks with Turkey

Austria’s Chancellor Christian Kern on Wednesday called on the European Union to end membership talks with Turkey in the wake of a massive government crackdown following a failed coup.

The Freedom Party challenged the previous run-off result, which showed Van der Bellen winning by 31,000 votes. A court decided the election had to be re-run due to sloppiness in the count, although no evidence of manipulation was found.

Although Austria’s president plays a largely ceremonial role, he can dismiss the cabinet.

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